Vice President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan squared off on taxes, the economy, and Libya in a debate defined by frequent interruptions and over-the-top grins.
Biden proved to be the more aggressive of the two, repeatedly attacking the Republican ticket and perpetually grinning, shaking his head, and chuckling as Ryan spoke.
“This is a bunch of stuff,” he said of Ryan's criticism that President Barack Obama had abandoned Israel by not going further in its sanctions to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
But Biden also found himself on the defensive as moderator Martha Raddatz pressed him on the Obama administration’s failure to bring unemployment down to six percent, as it promised when it passed the nearly $1 trillion stimulus plan, as well as the administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack that left four Americans, including Amb. Christopher Stevens, dead in Libya.
The White House repeatedly claimed that the siege on the American embassy in Benghazi was sparked by protests over a YouTube video. Defense and State Department officials said they knew early on that the attacks were premeditated and that the embassy was not properly protected.
“We weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again,” Biden said.
The State Department reportedly did not respond to requests from embassy officials for more security at its Libyan facilities. Ryan blasted the administration for its failure to protect Stevens and others.
“Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine detachment guarding him,” Ryan said. “Shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an Al Qaeda cell with arms?”
Ryan also slammed Obama for failing to spur the jobs growth he promised Americans in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
“Job growth in September was slower than it was in August, and August was slower than it was in July,” Ryan said. “We're heading in the wrong direction; 23 million Americans are struggling for work today; 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty today.
“This is not what a real recovery looks like.”
Biden controlled the tempo of the debate, frequently interrupting Ryan, taking questions out of turn, and making exaggerated arm gestures, while referring to his opponent as “my friend.”
Pundits were quick to declare Biden the winner. Buzzfeed Politics Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith wrote that Biden “dominated” the first half of the debate, citing his lecturing demeanor and forceful attacks. That sentiment was echoed in post-debate analysis on all three networks.
Voters, however, disagreed with the findings of the political class. Ryan won the debate 48-44, according to a CNN poll of debate viewers taken immediately following the first and only vice presidential debate.
Obama was depending on Biden to deliver a strong performance in the only vice presidential debate after polls showed Mitt Romney winning the first debate by the largest margin in history.
Romney and Obama will face off in their second debate in Hempstead, N.Y., on Tuesday.